Mother Tongue

Family and Language

Three years ago, my cousin Kevin came to upstate New York from northern Germany for a visit. My mother, a German immigrant who had arrived in the United States as a child, was initially embarrassed by how rusty her German skills had become after many years of disuse. Certain words escaped her, and she often needed to pause gather her thoughts. Spending time with her long-distance relative, however, awakened the German skills that had long lain dormant in her brain. Before long, her German vocabulary grew broader. Her exchanges with Kevin were peppered with fewer English words, and soon, she no longer had to pause to puzzle out Kevin’s German sentences or to muster a reply. Kevin’s English quickly became brawnier with use, as well. Their rapid increase in linguistic dexterity was, in the eyes of a monoglot such as myself, fascinating – and a little frustrating.

Yes, frustrating. I felt I had, in a strange way, been robbed of the easiest path available to become bilingual – lifelong exposure and immersion. Although I had a German mother, she had been actively resistant to teaching me German during my childhood for reasons she has kept her own. It is possible that she simply didn’t have the time to indulge me. But the fact remains: she had an excited child on her hands who was eager to learn German. As time went on, my interest in learning new languages remained, but my ability to pick up the intricacies of a foreign tongue diminished by the year. I remain interested in languages, but I am far from fluent in anything but my native English. Hence, my jealousy while watching my relatives converse so easy between languages. That could have been me. 

Importance of Learning Multiple Languages

It is vital that we give students every opportunity to learn multiple languages, and that we do so as early as possible to take advantage of the time when their brain is most efficiently wired for the task. I’ve heard teachers lament about the United States’s tardy attempt to teach foreign language since my elementary school days, but only recently have I seen any real attempts to combat this problem.

As a mother myself, I desperately want to give my two-year-old son the opportunity to learn a different language, and by extension, to become familiar with a different culture. That is why, next year, I plan on enrolling him at Genius Plaza’s Bilingual Genius Academy, where he can receive instruction in both Spanish and English. As he ages, I also plan on introducing him to Genius Plaza’s other educational products, which will not only enhance his language skills, but also supplement instruction in other subjects. Other ways to encourage foreign language learning can be found here.

Teaching a New Generation the Mother Tongue

My mom didn’t mean to stifle my childhood curiosity and hunger for knowledge, of this I am sure. I suppose the best way to combat this lost opportunity is to not only continue to pursue fluency in a second language for myself, but seamlessly integrate bilingualism into my son’s childhood, so he may have it to tap into as he comes up in the world.

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